Dennis Wise – A Developing Collection
Written by David M. Brown / Photography by Matthew D. Graff
When Paradise Valley’s Dennis Wise was 14, he began a close relationship with cars by acquiring his first ride from brother George. This was in a 1949 Crosley wagon — well broken in but good enough to get to work. “I worked every moment when I wasn’t in school,” he explains. His father had told him that plumbing would provide enough to be “comfortable,” so he apprenticed and began a career as a union plumber. At 19, he bought his first new car: a 1960 Chevrolet Impala, the “Gobbler.” In 1966, he started Wise Plumbing & Heating and bought a 1966 Chevrolet van which he still owns. Success in plumbing facilitated his entry into real estate developing in 1968 with a multiplex housing apartment. After that, he expanded into commercial real estate and larger apartment complexes. In the late ‘90s, he retired from developing and began devoting time to philanthropy in his hometown of Fairbanks, Alaska, by constructing amulti-use food bank, a women’s and children’s crisis shelter and a rescue mission. For this, Dennis and Mary Wise earned the Distinguished Citizen Honor Award from the state in 2007.
As work is still a favorite hobby, he returned to developing corporate office complexes and residential condos in Phoenix and Bellingham, Washington. “Cars have always been a passion,” says Dennis, who moved to Paradise Valley with wife Mary in 2000. A few years later, he constructed a 6,000-square-foot garage, with room for his cars and an attached boys club. “Part of my eclectic collection has 11 supercharged engines, nine cars with superchargers, one supercharged motorcycle and even a supercharged front-engine dragster.” To expand and show more of these, he’s just acquired an 18,200-square-foot building in the Scottsdale Airpark for more of his cars and cycles. He still comes to work every day with his German Shepherds, Rommel, Halley and Joey. Dennis invited us into his garage recently and offered us a view of his extensive collection:
• 1966 Chevy Plumbing Van—“I purchased the van new in 1965 when I started my first business. It shows only 22,000 miles and it still runs and drives like new. I built the pipe rack 45 years ago as there was no-mail order ladder rack available in Fairbanks. This van is very special as it is a symbol of a very positive turning point in my life.”
• 1937 Packard Super 8 Sedan Convertible—“One of the finest vehicles ever produced by Packard Motor Company. This model represents the end of an era of exceptional handbuilt quality. At the time of economic depression, this car represented great success as it does today so elegantly. Purchased in 2009, when I had just finished my new garage, this remains my car of choice to drive and enjoy. I enjoy chauffeuring friends at their weddings. This car has won
• 1923 Ford C-Cab — “It’s based on a ‘70s magazine comic. The builder spent an enormous amount of time, skill and energy to create this all-steel street rod. Having just missed it crossing the auction block, I chased down the truck driver loading the car and located the new owner to make an offer they couldn’t refuse. Inside the simulated oil tank is a massive 32-inch Clarion super subwoofer along with three amplifiers. Onlookers all have the same reaction of ‘Oh my God’ when they look inside.”
• 1935 Packard 120B Sedan Convertible — “This car has it all. Classic looks of a Packard with the modern performance of a Viper. Upon first glance, it is a beautiful example of a prewar classic, but a Viper V-10 cylinder is inside, backed by a six-speed for enough power to blow modern cars away, leaving a look of puzzlement over and over. “It can also outhandle most modern cars due to its updated fully independent Corvette aluminum C4 suspension outfitted with Baer 13-inch brakes. There is nothing like hanging with modern performance cars through corners and seeing the look on their owners’ faces as you motor by them in a 75-year-old car.”
•1932 Dodge Sedan — “One of my first street rods, this ‘32 combines the classic beauty of a prewar Dodge with a modern reliable drive train. Drive train is all Dodge with a 318 V-8, 727 automatic transmission and a 8 ¾-inch rear end, all complemented by the modern suspension and brake system for comfort and confidence when driving.”
•1957 Chevrolet Belair Hardtop Pro Street — “An injected and blown 496 stroked motor with over 900 horsepower moves this fully customized heavy Chevy. With an automatic overdrive transmission and a four-linked 9 inch Ford out back, this car always puts a smile on your face. Suspended by Air Ride technologies, you can drop this car in the weeds. Full custom audio with over 1,200 watts allows for hearing tunes over the angry big block that gives off the wildest exhaust note due to its full stainless exhaust system. At the young age of 17 when these were produced, I would have never imagined such a wild ride in my possession.”
And many others: from the ‘20s (‘29 Ford Model A Woodie StationWagon; ‘24 Ford T Bucket Custom); ‘30s (‘32 Ford Highboy Roadster with a blown 427 Chevy—“Ralph”; ‘33 Ford Wescott Convertible Street Rod; ‘34 Auburn 850Y Custom; ‘37 Studebaker Pick-up with an Avanti A3 Paxton supercharged engine). From the ‘40s: (1940 Willy’s pro street blown 454, with a T400 tranny and 9-inch Ford rear; 1941 Willy’s drag car); ‘50s (1953/2004 Custom Corvette convertible; ‘55 Chevy 210 drag car; ‘57 Chevy Belair Hardtop, Blown 496, 700R4, 9-inch Ford, full Air Ride suspension.) And ‘60s: (1962 Chevrolet Impala Pro Street blown 468, with Jeffco four speed, 9-inch Ford, round tube chassis; 1962 Buick Special Custom, Ridler award recipient, Pro-Charged 455, Richmond six speed, 9-inch Ford rear); ‘70s: (1970 AMC Gremlin drag car; 1978 El Camino Pro Street, Blown 383, T350, Ford 9-inch Rear); and ‘00s (2007 Bentley Flying Spur Mulliner, “wifey’s ride”; 2003 Mercedes-Benz S600 AMG).
Dennis rides bikes, too, nearly 30, from Harley’s, custom choppers long-haul Goldwings and bobbers. These include a Rewaco Trike, with Harley-Davidson power; Honda Rune; Honda Valkyrie; Harley-Davidson V-Rod; Wild West custom chopper; and a Big Inch custom chopper. He enjoys riding Goldwings with his buddies on long journeys throughout the country. Every year, he puts on 6,000-plusmiles on two wheels.
He and Mary also have a house in Bellingham, Wash. “In the summer, we enjoy time in our lake house in Washington where watercrafts provide the daily required adrenaline rush.” Her daughter Jill and grandsons Michael and Nicholas have inherited Dennis’ love and appreciation for automobiles and horsepower. His latest toy is a 92-foot Horizon Yacht: “Mary’s Promise IV.” “Life is good.” This article appeared in High-Line Autos, August 2011: “Great Garages”